cover image The Guardian Test (Legends of Lotus Island #1)

The Guardian Test (Legends of Lotus Island #1)

Christina Soontornvat, illus. by Kevin Hong. Scholastic Press, $16.99 (160p) ISBN 978-1-338-75915-0

Soontornvat (The Tryout) deftly combines a Thai-inspired setting, familiar fantasy tropes, and themes of nature conservation to craft a mystical series kickoff. Tween Plum, who’s grown up on her grandparents’ farm in the Santipap Islands, can hardly believe that she has been chosen to become a Guardian, part of a group of magical animalian shape-shifters who protect and nurture the natural world. She’s soon sent to Guardian Academy on Lotus Island to train for her first test: discovering her animal shape. At school, Plum faces bullying based on her rural upbringing, and forges an immediate friendship with knowledgeable, take-charge classmate Cherry. Despite her quickly improving abilities, however, Plum is unsure whether she will be able to unleash her inner power. Plum’s struggles with her self-worth are compassionately wrought, and her unique ability to communicate with animals and plants suitably plays into the narrative’s focus on environmentalism. Descriptive scene setting and humorous dialogue offer a solid foundation for interpersonal conflicts, while Hong’s animated grayscale illustrations elevate Soontornvat’s leisurely unfolding, intriguing Guardian mythos. Ages 8–12. Agent: Stephanie Fretwell-Hill, Red Fox Literary. (Mar.)